CHICAGO -- The city of Chicago dropped its lawsuit Wednesday against the police union in its fight over city employee COVID-19 vaccine orders, saying the complaint became unnecessary as more officers complied.
The move follows a judge's ruling last month to suspend an end-of-the-year city deadline for police officers to get vaccinated. Still, Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed Wednesday that if union leaders revived talk of an “illegal work stoppage” over the mandate, the city would return to court.
The city sued the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 in October, accusing President John Catanzara of encouraging an “illegal strike.” The city said those who didn't comply with the vaccine mandate would eventually be placed on “no-pay status." In public statements and on social media, Catanzara encouraged police to disobey the order. The union also sued.
Lightfoot and police leaders said the mandate was put in place to protect officers and the public. More than 460 law enforcement officers have died of COVID-19, including four in Chicago, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
“From day one when this requirement was announced in August, this entire process has been and will continue to be about protecting the lives and safety of all Chicagoans,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “The data shows that we are succeeding in that mission, and that police officers recognize that protecting and serving in the times of global pandemic means ensuring that they are vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Police have lagged behind other city departments in complying with steps in the city’s vaccine requirements. Employees must first report their vaccine status and then get vaccinated by year’s end with few exceptions. However, the percentage of the police department employees reporting their status increased from about 65% in October to about 87% this week, according to the city. Most other city departments are near or at 100% compliance.
Roughly 66% of police employees have been fully vaccinated, compared with about 75% of fire department employees. Some much smaller departments, including the budget office, report a 100% vaccination rate, according to city data.
Last month, a judge suspended the Dec. 31 deadline for police to be vaccinated but didn’t interfere with a requirement that they be regularly tested. The judge said the vaccination disputes should be handled as a labor grievance, which city officials said could take months.
Catanzara, who has repeatedly clashed with Lightfoot, retired as an officer last month as he faced disciplinary hearings over past comments. He remains union president and did not immediately return a message left Wednesday seeking comment.
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